Singapore studying new way to keep dengue at bay

Carolyn Khewn Straits Times AsiaOne 22 Jan 16;

While experts agree that genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes could help to suppress the wild mosquito population here, questions remain as to how well this approach would work in the long run and the Government is trying out another method to keep the insects at bay.

GM mozzies have a gene which prevents them from growing to adulthood and seems to have worked well in keeping dengue in check in several cities in Brazil.

This gene, however, is silenced if the insect comes into contact with the common antibiotic tetracycline.

In Singapore, the National Environment Agency (NEA) is, for now, studying the viability of using Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes instead. This method uses male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes infected with the bacteria to mate with the female dengue-spreaders, which then produce eggs that do not hatch.

The NEA told The Straits Times that its Environmental Health Institute had previously studied the GM mosquitoes produced by Oxitec, but the results were "inconclusive".

"For the progeny from the GM cross, they are not viable provided there is no tetracycline in the environment. For the progeny from the Wolbachia cross, the eggs do not hatch because they are unable to develop in the first place," explained an NEA spokesman.

"Another key difference is that the Wolbachia-Aedes technology is based on a naturally-occurring bacteria, which is found in more than 60 per cent of insects."

Oxitec pointed out that tetracycline degrades rapidly and that studies have shown it does not occur in sufficient amounts in the environment to impact the mosquitoes.

Dengue expert Duane Gubler, epidemiologist at Duke-NUS Medical School's Programme on Emerging Infectious Diseases, said that while the GM mosquitoes have very good potential to suppress the wild mosquito population, continual release would be needed to keep the numbers low.

"The Wolbachia virus takes a longer time to establish itself in the wild population, but once it does, it makes the mosquito less susceptible to dengue, chikugunya and yellow fever," he said. He added that both methods could be used in tandem, with the GM insects helping to suppress the wild population first, before the Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes are released.

Professor Annelies Wilder-Smith, who studies infectious diseases at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at Nanyang Technological University, said that Singapore is understood to have low levels of mosquito infestation - except in areas where they are hard to eliminate, such as breeding places inside homes or construction sites.

"We have been fighting dengue in the same way for the last 100 years - by destroying breeding sites and spraying insecticides. And it hasn't been working very well... We need new tools and I believe the use of GM mosquitoes brings hope."

Any method that works to control mosquitoes should be welcomed, but with GM organisms, there are concerns over the potential ecological impact and risks, noted Dr Tikki Pang, visiting professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, who was director of research policy and cooperation at the World Health Organisation from 1999 to 2012.

"The big advantage is that the Wolbachia method does not involve genetic modification and, therefore, may be more acceptable from a public perception and risk perspective," he said.

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Malaysia: Country Garden unveils RM175b 'Forest City' project

The Star 22 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE: "Forest City", a lush urban getaway on four man-made islands in Iskandar Malaysia was formally unveiled on Friday by Country Garden Holdings Co Ltd, a Hong Kong-listed property developer.

Sprawled over 1,386.05ha, Forest City is a joint development with Johor's Esplanade Danga 88 Sdn Bhd.

Forest City is South-East Asia's first and largest mixed-use green development in terms of the number of units to be built with a vertical greenery and smart city design theme.

With an estimated investment of S$58.3 billion (RM175.8 billion) over the next 20 years, Forest City is expected to fuel the economic development of Iskandar region, the main southern development corridor in Johor and neighbouring Singapore.

Eight industries including education, healthcare and tourism will be the main economic pillars of growth at Forest City.

Forest City is the first of its kind mega development in South-East Asia.

Car-free zone, luxury green living co-exist with smart technologies and amenities.

"Through the unveiling of Forest City, I'm proud to note that Country Garden have completed our transformation of achieving international landmark projects," said chief executive officer Mo Bin at the "Sustainable Eco-City Development Forum" and Forest City Global press conference in Singapore on Friday.

Forest City is Country Garden's largest real estate project outside of China, part of the group's internationalisation strategy to establish a larger overseas presence.

Recognised by the Guangdong provincial government as one of the top developers in China, the group has delivered quality homes for two decades and has developed over 100 cities in China.

"Rather than another pure real estate project, Forest City is a culmination of our wisdom, knowledge and experience that brings to life an eco-city of the future in its true sense.

"With Forest City, we are offering a perfect mix of luxury tranquility, urban vitality and proximity in the heart of South-East Asia," Mo said.

Part of the first phase of Forest City includes condominiums and high-rise coastal residences which would open for global sale soon in Singapore, China and Malaysia.

The two to four-bedroom condominiums and high-rise coastal residences are exceptionally designed and are situated within leafy foliage corridors and car-free avenues with gated security.

Meanwhile, executive director of Country Garden Pacificview Datuk Md Othman Yusof said: "This is a historic day not only for Forest City but for Malaysia, our business partners, and, just as significantly, for the global real estate industry."

Forest City represents an unprecedented alliance of two powerhouses in the real estate, financial and construction industries.

As part of the long-term planning for Forest City, Country Garden is in discussions with the Malaysian Government to set up dedicated entry points such as a light rail transit system and a ferry network that would link it to Singapore and to the planned high-speed rail service between Singapore and Malaysia. - Bernama

Country Garden’s Malaysian mega development eyes global buyers
The project spanning a 14 square kilometres is looking to attract a wide array of buyers
South China Morning Post 22 Jan 16;

Country Garden, China’s leading residential developer, said its mega reclamation project in south Malaysia’s Johor state will start apartment presales in the next six months and target global buyers.

The project, Forest City, comprising four man-made islands at the junction of Singapore and Malaysia, is the Chinese developer’s largest project overseas, with an expected total investment amounting to 250 billion yuan (HK$296 billion).

At its global press conference held in Singapore on Friday, Mo Bin, President of Country Garden Holdings, said the 14 square kilometre project was not simply a property project but a “city development project”.

“We will develop apartments, villas as well as schools, hospitals, exhibition centre, and a financial special administrative region to achieve city-industry integration,” Mo said, adding that the developer’s intention is to create a multi-layer eco-city, which has been designed to locate vehicular traffic and light rail transport away from ground level.

The project is in partnership with Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor, a Johor state investment arm, through a joint venture where Country Garden holds a 60 per cent stake.

While the huge project is still undergoing reclamation and infrastructure work, Country Garden said pre sales of apartments in one island would kick off in the first half of this year and the average price would be 1,200 Ringgit per square foot (HK$2,181 per sq ft).

“700 units have already received presale permits from the government,” said Jason Fu, regional head (Malaysia) of Country Garden.

When asked whether China’s slowdown and foreign exchange control tightening would affect its sales, the Country Garden’s chief strategy officer Jeff Lin said: “Forest City is targeting global buyers rather than Chinese investors.”

He added that more than 50 per cent of Country Garden’s project Danga Bay in Johor had been sold to buyers who are believed to be coming outside of China.

With the unique location, Country Garden hopes this project will attract large number of homebuyers from Singapore and boost the regional economy, he said.

“Johor to Singapore is just like Shenzhen to Hong Kong,” Mo said. “Shenzhen’s development has given us great inspiration.”

He expects affordable prices will make homes in Johor attractive to Singaporean buyers.

The relationship between Singapore and Malaysia is getting more connected as a high- speed rail link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur via Jorhar is expected to begin construction this year.

Alan Tan Wing Wton, a director, ASEAN & South Asia at the Singapore Business Federation said he looked forward to Country Garden’s lead in encouraging Singapore companies to look overseas and invest in Malaysia.

Initiated in 2013, Country Garden’s Forest City project faced many challenges at the beginning. The proposed massive reclamation raised concerns about its environmental impact from both sides of the border and was once suspended in 2014.

The project restarted last January after obtained final approval from Malaysian environmental authorities after assessment.

As a part of Malaysia’s Iskandar Special Development Zone, the project enjoys beneficial policies including preferential tax rates.

Mo said the developer was in talk with the government to get approval to have duty-free shopping and landing visas in the area.

Country Garden plans to invest into the project in phases, having channelled 8 billion yuan in so far, Lin said.

“Our company has sufficient funds,” Lin said.

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Malaysia: Johor police fight dengue menace

HALIM SAID New Straits Times 22 Jan 16;

JOHOR BARU: Police here not only have to fight crime, they also have to kill mosquitoes following the rise in dengue cases here .

In an effort to keep the Johor police headquarters free from the Aedes mosquitoes, a ‘gotong-royong’ involving 300 police personnel from the state police contingent was carried out this morning.

Leading the ‘gotong-royong’ was Johor deputy police chief Datuk Aishah Muhammad who said there had also been cases of dengue fever reported at the police quarters here.

"There have been three cases reported so far and that is why we took the necessary steps to eradicate the Aedes mosquitoe breeding grounds to ensure that none of the police personnel or their families living in the quarters would become a victim of the disease again," she said.

She added that three police personnel who had been admitted to Hospital Sultanah Aminah two weeks ago had since been discharged and had reported for duty.

"We want to promote a safer working environment for all and it is a collective responsibility to ensure that our work place is free from Aedes breeding grounds," he said.

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Indonesia: Biodiversity plan to tap economic potential

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 22 Jan 16;

The National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) launched the Indonesian Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2015-2019 on Thursday in a bid to tap into the economic potential of the country’s biodiversity.

The Bappenas deputy for environment and natural resources, Endah Murniningtyas, said the new document was an updated version of a blueprint published in 2003.

“The old document emphasizes the conservation aspect [of biodiversity]. But to be frank, the utilization of biodiversity, involving small and medium enterprise, labor and major industry, is very important,” she said during the launch of the new blueprint on Thursday.

Endah said that biodiversity represented an untapped economic potential for the nation, a figure thought to be worth more than Rp 3,134 trillion in 2012.

“I am sure the figure is an underestimate,” she said.

Endah said the country’s biodiversity was worth a lot more as scientists had, thus far, only been able to identify 30 percent of the fauna and 50 percent of the flora in the archipelago.

“That’s just the species, not the benefits that they have. One species could possess a dozen methods for utilization,” she said. “It means that the potential is huge. We put this potential in our documentation. After that, we can conduct research on benefits”.

If the government were to possess complete information regarding the country’s biodiversity, including potential benefits, it would be able to use the knowledge to attract investors.

“They could be local or foreign investors. That’s why there will be a benefit sharing [mechanism],” Endah said.

In other countries, researchers have contracts with businesses, such as pharmaceutical companies, for benefit sharing. This is something that could be replicated in Indonesia, she said.

“That’s why we already have a committee for research cooperation. But that’s all, we don’t usually follow up [on business opportunities] after the research is completed,” said Endah.

Many, however, have expressed a concern that the new action plan, by emphasizing the economic benefit of biodiversity, could threaten biodiversity itself.

The combination of natural hazard and human activity, including illegal logging and forest conversion, has caused severe ecological losses. The country could face further losses from the theft of genetic resources,

“There are many people who exploit biodiversity by violating existing regulations. This is known as biodiversity theft,” said Environment and Forestry Ministry director general for ecosystem and natural resource conservation Tachrir Fathoni. “This theft is worsened by illegal logging, illegal trading and so on, all of which affect our biodiversity”.

Endah, however, said that the government would take extra measures to ensure that conservation would be a top priority.

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Indonesia: Biodiesel mix program to stay on track despite calls for review

Khoirul Amin, The Jakarta Post 22 Jan 16;

The Indonesian Oil Palm Estate Fund (BPDP) has voiced support for the government’s mandatory biodiesel mix program to reduce the country’s carbon footprint and spur growth in the palm oil industry, despite calls to review the plan due to potential funding problems.

BPDP president director Bayu Krisnamurthi said his agency would push for the implementation of blending 20 percent palm oil-biodiesel into public diesel, known as the B20 program.

“We won’t scale it back to B15. We must not go backward for our renewable energy and to date, I’ve got commitments from all parties to continue with the B20 program,” he said Thursday.

Bayu explained that implementing B20 would significantly help the country stay on track with its commitment to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 29 percent by 2030, compared with business-as-usual projected emissions.

The implementation of B20 would reduce the emission of equivalent carbon dioxide (CO2) by 9 to 18 million tons per year, according to BPDP data.

In addition, widespread use of biofuel would help propel prices of crude palm oil (CPO), the main material for the fuel, amid concerns of a global glut of the commodity.

Local CPO prices increased from below Rp 5,500 (39 US cents) per kilogram prior to the use of the CPO fund to around Rp 7,000 per kg at present, according to BPDP data.

The Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association (Gapki) previously called on the government to evaluate the B20 program due to funding issues deriving from the global slump in oil prices that would lead to higher biofuel subsidy costs for the government, as the gap between production costs and consumer prices widen.

While the mandatory biodiesel program in previous years was funded through the state budget, the government has used the CPO fund sourced from levies on CPO exports since July last year. The BPDP has been assigned to manage the fund.

BPDP estimates that Rp 9.5 trillion will be needed to fund the B20 program this year under the assumption that crude oil prices will hit US$40 per barrel and CPO prices $500 per ton.

Meanwhile, if crude oil prices stand at $20 per barrel and CPO prices remain at $500 per ton, the biodiesel program will require a total of Rp 16.5 trillion.

Bayu said that under the assumptions and a carryover of around Rp 6 trillion from last year, the CPO fund could support B20 implementation for the next eight to 10 months and other programs like replanting and plasma farmer training.

“We’ll consult the funding gap with the government and there are actually a number of alternatives,” he said.

Biofuel Producers Association (Aprobi) chairman Paulus Tjakrawan voiced preference for the funding gap being financed by the government.

The government’s mandatory B20 target hit 6.93 million kiloliters this year, with 107,000 Kl absorbed in the first two weeks of this year.

The government has ordered the blending of diesel fuel with a portion of biofuel in a move to reduce the country’s growing dependency on fossil fuel and its carbon footprint. The mandatory biofuel blend into diesel fuel has increased from 10 percent in 2013 to 15 percent in 2015 and to 20 percent this year.

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Indonesia: Elephant poachers locked up for two and a half years

Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 22 Jan 16;

The Pangkalan Kerinci District Court in Riau on Thursday sentenced four men to two years and six months in prison each for hunting and killing elephants in the Tesso Nilo National Park (TNTN) in Pelalawan regency.

The court also fined the defendants, Ari Kamil, Ishak Ibrahim, Herdani Serdavio Hasan Basri and Anwar Sanusi Poniran, Rp 20 million (US$1,428) each, or an additional three months behind bars.

Presiding judge Bangun Sagita Rambe said the defendants were proven guilty of violating Article 40 (2) of Law No 5/1990 on biodiversity and ecosystem and Article 55 (1) of the Criminal Code (KUHP).

“Based on the facts presented in the trial, the element of jointly and deliberately hunting protected animals was legally and convincingly proven,” Bangun said, reading out the verdict.

However, he added, the defendants were not proven guilty of trading in elephant parts.

“Three pairs of tusks of 42, 49 and 25 centimeters, respectively, were to be handed over to Fadli [who is still at large] in return for Rp 4 million per kilogram, but the money had not been received at the time the defendants were arrested,” Bangun said.

The trial, which began on Nov. 12 last year, heard that the defendants had killed two adult male elephants and a baby male elephant on Feb. 6 last year in the TNTN area in Segati subdistrict, Langgam district.

The defendants, Bangun said, had been given their hunting equipment comprising a rifle and 66 bullets from Fadli.

Ari killed the elephants by shooting them twice in the head; Herdani and Ishak then skinned the heads and removed the tusks using a cleaver and an axe. Anwar acted as a driver and guided the other defendants to the hunting ground. He was found guilty for not reporting the crime to the police.

“All of the defendants were aware that hunting wild animals was not allowed. That’s why there are no justifying reasons for their deliberate violation of the prevailing laws,” the presiding judge said.

Aggravating factors included the fact that the crime could lead to the extinction of Sumatran elephants in Riau and that the defendants had previous convictions for involvement in elephant poaching from the Bengkalis District Court.

“Mitigating factors include that they confessed to and showed contrition for their crimes. They also support their families,” Bangun said.

The four defendants said they would not appeal.

Prosecutor Sri Mulyani Anom of the Pangkalan Kerinci Prosecutor’s Office also expressed no objection to the verdicts.

The four defendants were previously arrested for poaching along with three others, Fadli, Mursid and Ruslan.

The Bengkalis District Court sentenced the seven poachers to sentences ranging from 10 months to a year and a month. They were also ordered to pay Rp 3 million in fines or serve a further month in jail.

WWF Indonesia Riau program spokesman Syamsidar on Thursday expressed appreciation of the verdict, noting that the sentences were more stringent than those handed down by other Riau courts in similar wildlife-related cases.

However, Syamsidar also urged the authorities to look more closely at the possible involvement in the case of Fadli, whom she said appeared to have escaped justice.

In October last year, she said, Fadli was released on parole after serving two thirds of the sentence handed down by the Bengkalis court.

“In the TNTN case he should have been sentenced alongside the four defendants; instead, he is still free, despite having masterminded the poaching.”

She expressed fear that if investors behind the poaching of protected animals were left untouched, they would consider themselves untouchable and increase their criminal activities.

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Indonesia: El Nino still spells disaster in East Nusa Tenggara

Antara 22 Jan 16;

Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara (ANTARA News) - The weather phenomenon El Nino still spells disaster in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) with widespread harvest failure and livestock dying from starvation.

Not only food crop but also thousand of livestock are facing the impact of serious depletion of life giving water after long unending drought in the province.

"El Nino has caused not only harvest failure in millions of hectares of farm lands but it could be the end of the world for tens of thousands of livestock in the middle of dry and empty grazing fields," village chief said.

Nian village chief in the sub-district of Miomaffo Tengah in the regency of Timor Tengah Utara Agustinus Toan said the grazing field which is normally green in January is now barren.

In Sumba Timur livestock farmers also almost lost hope how to feed their livestock as fodder is no longer easily available in the fields. Hundreds of cattle are already died from starvation, Tanaraing village chief Umbu Hia Hamataki said.

Farmers have to sell their cattle at cheap prices rather than letting them die wasted in the field.

"Before they die we sell them to traders at Rp500,000 up to Rp1 million one," a local farmer said.(*)

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El Niño Does Bring Floods And Drought, But There's A Silver Lining

Joseph Daniel Fiedler for NPR, 22 Jan 16;

Maybe El Niño isn't as bad as its reputation.

El Niño is an ocean-warming phenomenon in the Pacific that crops up every few years and alters world weather patterns. And the world is in the middle of a big El Niño that roughly began in May 2015 and will continue for at least several more months this year.

This El Niño has already been linked to a series of weather-related disasters: Massive flooding in Paraguay. Drought in Ethiopia. Another looming food crisis in Madagascar and Zimbabwe.

But for all the doom and gloom, scientists say there's also a silver lining here.

To understand why, you need to go back to the last time the planet was hit by an El Niño this big — in 1997. That event, which lasted through 1998, seemed particularly devastating to poor countries.

"A lot of people were looking around at the climate impacts and starting to create lists of how expensive that El Niño event was, how much damage it was costing," says Columbia University climate scientist Lisa Goddard.

Then, as now, there was a lot to add up: flooding in Peru, drought-fueled wildfires in Indonesia, a severe malaria epidemic in Kenya caused by excessive rainfall. The tab reached into the tens of billions of dollars.

"The conclusion that was coming out was that El Niño events were very costly, were very damaging, were very extreme," she says.

But Goddard, who heads Columbia's International Research Institute for Climate and Society, had her doubts. After all, she notes, "Different parts of the world experience extreme climate in any year."

Were extreme weather disasters really more likely to occur across the world during El Niño years?

"What we found was that they weren't," says Goddard.

In fact, what she and a colleague concluded after an extensive review of the data is that what distinguishes climate disasters during an El Niño isn't that they're more severe or more numerous. It's that El Niño-produced disasters are more ... predictable.

Goddard explains that scientists know an El Niño is coming when — for reasons that are not fully understood — the waters of the Pacific become unusually warm. That warming "reorganizes the seasonal pattern of weather — like where the jet stream is carrying the storms," she says. The signature pattern of an El Niño has been well-documented.

How El Niño Changes Weather Patterns

El Niño conditions produce a well-documented shift in seasonal weather patterns. Over a roughly 14-month period that often starts in May, certain regions of the world receive far less rainfall than usual, while others receive far more. This map shows the areas affected during at least some point in the cycle. However, the specific impact varies from one El Niño to the next.

Source: Ropelewski, C.F., and M. S. Halpert, 1987: Global and regional scale precipitation patterns associated with the El Niño Southern Oscillation. Mon. Wea. Rev., 115, 1606-1626; Mason and Goddard, 2001. Probabilistic precipitation anomalies associated with ENSO. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 82, 619-638 Credit: International Research Institute for Climate and Society, The Earth Institute, Columbia University (; NPR

What's more, the stronger the El Niño, the more pronounced the effect — and therefore the more accurately scientists can predict the impacts. So this current, extra-powerful El Niño has offered governments and aid agencies a rare chance to prepare.

Take the United Nation's World Food Program. Richard Choularton is overseeing a groundbreaking shift there. They're monitoring the El Niño forecasts to identify places where a natural disaster might hit so they can send aid money proactively.

For example, explains Choularton, "If you need a certain amount of rainfall for a maize crop to grow, and the forecast says there's a 60 percent chance that you'll get less than that, we trigger funding for communities to do things that will help them deal with a drought."

Now, in this scenario that would mean there's a 40 percent chance there won't be a drought. The WFP could end up spending money that wasn't needed. But Choularton says it's worth the risk because preventive aid is so much cheaper than emergency aid.

"In fact, this is what's given us the confidence to be able to say we should be able to act before something happens based on the forecast, because we know that we'll save money in the long run."

WFP is setting up this pilot effort in five countries where El Niño-related weather could create food shortages in the coming months: Guatemala, Niger, Sudan, Zimbabwe and the Philippines. The International Red Cross has launched a similar program for Uganda.

"That's never happened before," says Choularton. "It really is changing the fundamental way we do our work from one which is reactive to one which is anticipatory."

Still, forewarned hasn't always meant forearmed in this El Niño.

Especially in Indonesia. Every fall, everyone from small farmers to big companies there set fires to clear land for palm oil production. It's always a problem. But this past year, the El Niño created extra-dry conditions. Any fires were bound to get out of control. And the government did spread the word.

"Of course they told people about the situation," says Rizaldi Boer, director of the Center for Climate Risk and Opportunity Management at Indonesia's Bogor Agricultural University.

But Boer says in many cases the warnings only encouraged people to set fires. They thought it would be the ideal year to do it, says Boer, because the fires would burn more easily and they could clear land more quickly. "They really made use of the situation to get more land."

The result was fires that raged for weeks, choking the region with smoke, sickening hundreds of thousands.

Boer says the solution for the next El Niño will be to give people a better reason not to set fires — cracking down on offenders, of course, but just as important is offering financial rewards to villages that resist the temptation.

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